As Arctic ice sheets continue to melt, Russia has rapidly positioned themselves to take advantage of new northern shipping lanes created by the thinning ice. Russia’s massive fleet of icebreakers — which dwarfs that of the United States and most of its allies combined — bolster six new and a number of other re-opened arctic military installations that Russian President Vladimir Putin has said, in no uncertain terms, represent the future of the Russian economy. He reiterated this commitment in an address delivered as recently as this past March:

Not a single [other] country in the world has a nuclear icebreaker fleet. The Soviet Union used to have it, Russia has it, and we have plans to develop a powerful new-generation icebreaker fleet. We won’t threaten anybody, but, using our advantages, of a territorial nature in this case, we will ensure the security of Russia and its citizens. In this sense, the Arctic region is extremely important for Russia.”

The United States is slowly working toward fielding a new, state-of-the-art icebreaker, set to absorb many of the duties currently filled by America’s only two operational vessels. While some lawmakers see this billion-dollar investment as a chance to put the United States back into contention in the frigid north, this diesel vessel will do little to offset Russia’s advantage. Their icebreaker fleet alone consists of over 40 operational vessels, with 11 more in production and at least two that are nuclear powered. The United States may have the most powerful military in the world, but above 66.33 degrees north latitude, Russia is the force to be reckoned with.

This massive buildup of Russian power in the Arctic has led to an increase in U.S. Marine Corps training rotations in Norway, with U.K. forces now set to follow suit. These troop rotations, numbering in the low thousands in total, have fueled new rounds of posturing between Russian and Norwegian officials, but ultimately the troop presence in Norway is too small at any given time to represent any real threat to Russian interests.  As much trouble as 700 U.S. Marines could cause, they don’t offer quite as threatening a presence on the horizon as one of America’s Nimitz class supercarriers sailing alongside some defensive escorts.